There are fewer poor neighborhoods in Fairfield County than in other parts of Connecticut and yet close to 30 percent of children in the county live in poor [neighborhoods], a new study shows. That’s not surprising given that southwestern Connecticut has one the most extreme income inequality rates in the U.S. Researchers from the New Haven-based nonprofit DataHaven and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation found that the richest households made $558,970 per year in 2014, nearly eighteen times what poor families earned.
They found that inequality disproportionately affects children in the county, limiting their access to good schools.
"One of the challenges that comes with segregation is that there are lots of people in Fairfield County who are not aware of the poverty that exists in other parts of the county," said Nancy von Euler, one of the co-authors of the study. "But we do know that growing up in poverty affects the lifelong trajectory of a person."
Children of color are far more likely to live and go to a public school in a high-poverty district than white children, according to the study. Just one percent of white children live in a poor neighborhood, compared to 36 percent of African American children and 30 percent of Hispanic children.
“Historically, children living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to not graduate so overall it’s a concern,” said Mark Abraham, executive director of DataHaven. “Will they have the same opportunities as other generations?”
Researchers also found that even affluent African-American and Hispanic families are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods, including parts of Bridgeport, and small sections of Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford. But white families who are poor tend to live in high-income neighborhoods.
"It’s much easier to move to an affluent neighborhood if you have a high net worth but over [generations], white families had more opportunities to purchase homes," Abraham said.
"The household net worth of a family can affect how easy it is for young adults to get through college and own a house, which translates in differences in opportunity," Abraham said, adding that the county population living in an extreme income neighborhood has steadily increased.
As part of the study, DataHaven and the Community Foundation interviewed more than 16,000 randomly-selected adults and held focus groups with county residents, who spoke of limited early childcare and healthcare options.
"Low-income parents have a really hard time finding affordable care for children two and under and of course it’s going to affect their ability to work, buy food, pay rent," said von Euler. "It’s all tied together when you’re a young parent."